Google+ Consumer Psyche: Aakhir dil hai Hindustani

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Aakhir dil hai Hindustani


Ranjith's guest post. Despite his tough schedule he could come out with something this wonderful :) Hail consumergiri!

Sundays are a great way to spend one seventh of your life.

So as I sit here at Costa Coffee CMH road, sipping on a chilled peach-passion-fruit-cooler and feasting on a warm fig-and-walnut cake, looking at the babes that walk by from behind my big black sunglasses (specially bought for this exclusive purpose :), I’m thinking quite hard of what to write for Tiger’s blog.

Tiger and I have a strange history together – we’re fellow bloggers who had come together for the Indiblogger Bangalore bloggers meet and the subsequent newspaper report covering the event had our pictures together for a article humbly titled ‘Superstars of Blogosphere’(yes, seriously! :). And as is the norm in the world today, we fb friended each other and then later, we pretty much went back to our individual worlds. Till he gave me the honor of guest posting in his blog last week.

So, what do I write?..........hmmm…..

I look at Tiger’s blog and see the words ‘consumer’, ‘sales’, ‘service’ and the sorts… hmmm.. interesting,...... So, what do I write?..........

And I take another nibble of the warm cake….

It is quite yum actually…. And I realize that it’s my first time here at Costa. I’ve always been a CCD guy and have been a regular at the CCD on 100 feet road, Indiranagar, Bangalore and have been a sucker for its amazing location – it’s surrounded by huge green trees, overlooks the classy 100ft road, is at a good viewing distance away from all the traffic and the food was good too - I’ve probably had a hundred and one chocolate fantasy cakes and cappuccinos there with friends, family and favorites. But of late, I’ve been quite disillusioned by CCD’s service (or rather, the total lack of).

And that is the consumer in me talking. I’ve been a consumer to CCD for a while but now have happily changed loyalties to somebody else who gives me better bang for my buck. And come to think of it, we’re all infected with the same syndrome – we’re all consumers every day. And we are very careful about whom we choose to hand over our hard earned money. In the shining version of India today, brand loyalty has become a shaky concept considering the flood of brands we’re exposed to. Brands that do not get their act together will be rejected outright, no matter how big they may be elsewhere in the world. Even the world’s most favorite brand, the mighty Apple did not find many takers for its latest iPhone 4S in India recently, mainly because we did not find it worthy enough at such costs.

We Indians are a peculiar lot – we want the best but we won’t pay the best. And that’s not really a bad thing at all. But mind you, we’re not after cheap products- we still look down upon the ‘made-in-china’ ware – we Indians seek value, not cheap. And brands, that have identified this quirk of ours as an opportunity, have succeeded. Cases in point –
  • In the Indian automobile sector of today, almost every player has realized the importance of India-centric cars. Gone are the days when India was just a dumping ground for foreign also-rans. Today global players like Hyundai make cars for the discerning Indian consumer and if it clicks here, it’s then also exported to foreign shores. Almost every player has brought out a made-for-India-car: Ford’s greatest success in India is its India car, Figo; Toyota too gave an Indian grill to its cars with the successful Etios; Honda responded to the Indian challenge by slashing the price of its Jazz and bringing out its pocket friendly Brio. To satiate the Indian consumer’s search for value, cars have also started coming out with their diesel versions much faster than before.
  • Telecom – One of the biggest drivers for value is open competition and the best Indian example for this is Indian telecom. I can’t even tell you how consumer centric the Indian telecom market has become once it was opened to open competition – Indian telecom has today one of the lowest rates in the world and to cater to this market dynamic, telcos have turned themselves into much more efficient versions by fine tuning their operations. And in response to their troubles, we have rewarded the telcos by becoming one of the fastest growing telecom markets in the world and stand today as the country with second largest number of mobile users in the world. Indian telcos like Airtel are taking their rich experience of profitably catering to the value conscious Indians to strike gold in other markets like Africa. Vodaphone’s India arm is considered as one of its best performing units. Next year, a new set of rules are slated to make the telecom industry even more competitive and thereby, even more consumer centric (are the FDI-in-retail opponents listening?).
  • Apna fmcg market is rife with examples of companies constantly evolving their value proposition. The shampoo categories got revolutionized with the low cost sachets, driven by desi brand Chik. Firangs companies that got this right later extended the concept to the detergent segment and now also to food: categories like biscuits and chocolates have started offering products at the ever declining price points. Retailers like Walmart and Tesco are feared from entering India for the awesome value play that they can bring to the consumer that will squeeze the politically connected middle men out of business, hence explaining their opposition to the consumer centric FDI in retail.

Consumergiri. Well, few instances of our consumergiri that I could think about, embedded deep within the dil of the hindustani consumer are:
  • Show me the value and I’ll show u the money: We already have an idea what value is. Some companies cut down on quality/size/both to reduce price in their quest for value– and it does work in many cases but is never a sustainable solution – in fact, it’s also one of the best ways to kill a brand – remember Akai TV. Similarly, I know a lot of people who refuse to buy electronics from EZone, because of the owner’s focus on being sabse sastha (maybe a totally untrue belief). But brands that have mastered the art of justifying their high price with value have been phenomenally successful. For example, P&G’s flagship products, Whisper and Pampers, are the undisputed leaders in their respective categories in spite of their higher prices. The operating word in the Indian side of life has always been value, which is not just a reduced price tag; and brands that understand and respect this have had valuable experiences in India.
  • I’m smart, in case you still haven’t noticed: Some great dude once said that ‘the consumer is not an idiot – she is your wife’. And many brands and services think they can outsmart us to a royal ride by serving shoddiness. Think of auto drivers – why is Rajnikanth from Baasha the only auto driver we ever liked? – but seriously, auto guys have never really been a liked bunch out here (in Bangalore at least). Cos we already know how much it really costs to get us there – really! Mantri mall in Bangalore has started a pre-paid auto service and the rates that have been printed on the sheet are mostly inflated by at least 30-40 bucks. You think we did not know? So what do we do? We just walk outside the mall for a little while and get another auto who charges us more reasonably. Or better yet, we get the red a/c bus. We still get home while the auto guys pay the exorbitant mall parking charges – so who’s the real loser out here for the over smartness? We are the land of the jugaad – defined as the gutsy Indian art of finding opportunities in the most adverse circumstances – we will find another way; it’s in our blood to do so. Respect our intellect and we’ll give you your chance, you savvy?
  • Mere paas social media hai: There’s this interesting story that when Farah Khan did not find Pampers at her neighborhood, she tweeted about the shortage and the resulting backlash prompted P&G to send her a month’s supply of diapers within a day. Similarly, facebook has as much a role in damaging brand equity as much as making it too – remember the recent story when most admired telecom brand Vodafone got enmeshed in a whole episode of negative publicity when V decided to slap legal charges against a customer who posted about its pathetic network on fb (yup, “he’s always on facebook”..;)) – the resultant negative publicity that grew on fb against the brand was something Vodafone could really have done without. And today as we speak, Kapil Sibal’s anti-democratic directives to websites have met with widespread uproar from the junta on social media. Moral of the story: In the inter connected world of today, news of bad service as well as good, travels at the speed of net.
So ultimately, the one word that sums the coziest brand-consumer relations anywhere is just one simple word – respect; respect me and I’ll respect you back. And this is what makes up brands like Tata, Infosys, Amul tick – they respect the hindustani in us, they respect our consumergiri, they respect us as we are – they make us a promise and deliver it.

So let’s go back to the Costa – CCD face off with which we started this post with. Why do you think they’re both doing what they are right now?

Well, here’s my take –

Most people don't realize it, but the world’s largest restaurant chain, McDonald's is not just a restaurant chain; it is one of the world's best real estate companies -> franchisees make the burgers while McDonald's gets to own the best commercial property all over the world. CCD has probably realized that their real worth is not only the money it makes by selling coffee but the valuable real estate it keeps buying all across. Bangaloreans will know that CCD joints have come up at prime properties on MG road, and it’s actually a good thing cos ur favorite coffee is just a tad closer to your favorite hangouts. But me thinks that all this just made CCD lazy on its USP. At the crux of all this is that the once amazing experience they used to provide with great location, great food and drinks –their USP – got lost somewhere along the way. Also another thing I’ve noticed is that CCD is now focusing on their premier outfits like the CCD Lounge and the CCD Square, where I’ve found the prices quite high but the service great. Maybe (just maybe), CCD is just busy buying land and upping their service quotient only at their higher priced new formats in the hope of upgrading their consumers to these higher priced ware, overlooking their earlier format.

But what CCD did not account for is that the gap that CCD created was simply taken up by Costa. And Costa today reminds you of what CCD used to be when it started off – a great place with great food. I sincerely hope that CCD does something to bring back the magic in their joints, especially at my once favorite one at 100feet, Indiranagar, Bangalore. And ironically, even if they don’t pull up their socks, I know I won’t be bothered at all as there’s always Costa… or Barista…or Gloria Jeans .. or Java….or a whiff of news of something called Starbucks coming along…. so on guard, CCD!

And I take another nibble of the warm yummy cake…. and a sip of the superb chilled peach-passion-fruit-cooler…

Aaah… Sundays …..

Pure Bliss…

:)
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